REVIEW: The Big Sick

11 07 2017

I’m all about a good cross-cultural romantic comedy (I can probably recite every line of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” by heart), so “The Big Sick” was right up my alley to begin. Kumail Nanjiani’s true story ups the ante, though, by adding significantly greater dramatic stakes. An early dinner scene with his Pakistani family contains discussion of a relative who dared to marry outside the Muslim faith and have a mixed baby – “it’s like he’s dead,” someone says. “No one will visit.”

Despite half-heartedly entertaining his mother’s parade of eligible wives, Kumail (playing himself) falls for Zoe Kazan’s Emily after she gently heckles him during a stand-up set. She’s a stark contrast to the bland, eager-to-please Pakistani women, to say the least. Willing to push back on his requests and call out his good-natured mansplaining, Emily overwhelms him, as he does for her.

Like any relationship, Kumail and Emily’s faces setbacks … not the least of which being a mysterious illness that forces doctors to put her into a medically-induced coma. (With a chilling montage of Kumail walking through the hospital, director Michael Showalter immediately and effectively shifts the tone in a more somber direction.) This development puts him into contact with her parents, Ray Romano’s calmly neurotic Terry and Holly Hunter’s frazzled mama bear Beth, who do not exactly hold him in the highest regard. Over time, though, Kumail comes to learn from them and appreciate the geographic, cultural and gender hurdles they had to surmount to make their relationship work.

“The Big Sick” is not reinventing the wheel of the dramedy, but it’s still worth commending for a number of reasons. Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, his real wife (spoiler alert!), tell a story that’s specific and personal but never too precious. It’s distinctively theirs with a little something to offer all of us. And while a good chunk of the film deals with Kumail’s comedy career, Showalter’s camera is judicious. He knows the value of a quick reaction shot. The way he captures the full lay of the land in any given scene demonstrates how the non-verbal alchemy of an actor can enhance a great story beyond the words on a page. B+ /

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REVIEW: Hello, My Name Is Doris

19 03 2016

Hello My Name Is DorisAs a child, I got quite a bit of enjoyment from watching Sally Field’s face become animated with emotion – chiefly, in “Mrs. Doubtfire.” (That dinner scene. Priceless.) Michael Showalter’s “Hello, My Name Is Doris” recognizes her gift for telegraphing emotion and amplifies it. The problem is that he allows scarcely any of her considerable talents to shine through.

As Doris Miller, a quiet accountant and caregiver for her late mother, Field’s performance is half authentic emotion and half GIF-able moments. Whatever humanity might be in the script for Doris gets squandered by her overly burlesqued acting that turns the character into more of a joke than an object of our sympathy and affection.

After her mother’s funeral in the first scene, Doris’ attention can go in any number of directions. (Her brother and sister-in-law hope she will clear out all the items she hoards away.) She choose to invest her energy in pursuing a much younger co-worker, Max Greenfield’s John Fremont, for whom she has the hots. Far too often, his boyish good looks reduce her to little more than a fantasizing teenage girl. That’s not to say all women of a certain age on screen must conform to a narrow model of proscribed behavior, but she is the joke of the scene far more often than she is the heart of it.

The flimsiness of character’s personality is only hampered by the silly, cliche-riddled script of “Hello, My Name Is Doris.” Bonus points for not having the slightest idea of how Facebook works in 2016. Field deserves something better to work with for her first step into the leading woman spotlight in quite some time. C+2stars





F.I.L.M. of the Week (August 3, 2012)

3 08 2012

Well, if I hadn’t taken a number of hiatuses, my 100th entry in the “F.I.L.M. of the Week” series (that’s First Class, Independent Little-Known Movie, just a reminder) would have come around June or July 2011.  But a belated milestone is still a milestone, so I’m going to celebrate by writing about “Wet Hot American Summer,” perhaps one of the most underappreciated cult comedies of recent memory.  Starring just about all your favorite comedians WAY before they were famous, it’s a hilarious time capsule that surely needs to be opened if you are a fan of anyone in the massive cast!

It’s the last day of summer at a Jewish camp in Maine – in 1981, no less – so that means everyone is trying to attend to some unfinished business.  The movie juggles a ton of storylines in an hour and a half, some of which don’t work as well as others, I’ll admit.  A number of the jokes are just so stupid, you have to wonder whether you want to laugh or just cringe.

But director David Wain, who later found commercial success and critical acclaim with “Role Models,” just never lets the relentless onslaught of over-the-top, farcical comedy end.  And for that, it could make for a “Napoleon Dynamite”-style viewing trajectory: perhaps just some chuckling the first time, and then those giggles turn into full-on belly laughs as the nuances of the humor reveal themselves over multiple viewings.

It’s certainly worth watching to see the beginnings of Paul Rudd’s caustic humor, albeit slightly more hammed up, as an airheaded horndog lifeguard who can really cop an attitude.  The object of his affection, at least momentarily, is Elizabeth Banks – until he decides she tastes like hamburgers and doesn’t like her anymore.

Amy Poehler is another scene-stealer as Susie, the bossy, controlling counselor in charge of theater intending to stage a number of “Godspell” as if she were working on Broadway.  What makes her character even better, though, is that she is flanked by preppy, Lacoste-clad minion Ben at all times.  Now, Ben is played by none other than Phil Wenneck himself, Bradley Cooper.  His PR people have done a mighty great job keeping this movie on the down low … I’ll let you find out for yourself why he probably doesn’t want many people to discover this early role of his.  I think it’s absolutely hilarious, as is the rest of the movie, and I highly recommend you find out Bradley Cooper’s surprise and many other raunchy delights I didn’t even mention in this cursory overview!